The Alternative Prom: Establishing an American Muslim tradition

On the surface, the party has all the trappings of a traditional prom: Fancy dresses, fancy food, and fancy footwork on the dance floor. But two key components are missing: boys and alcohol. 

The prom is an annual rite of passage in which students celebrate their successful graduation from high school in the United States and Canada. 

While this is a milestone virtually all parents and families are willing to help their students fete, what becomes an issue is how the celebration is conducted. For Muslim parents, the primary objection to their children attending the prom in public and private schools that are not Muslim is the presence of intoxicants and the opposite sex.

Enter the alternative prom, where students can party without compromising on principle.

When Yumna Aziz* and her friends decided to help organize an alternative prom at her full-time Islamic school in suburban Chicago, she was carrying on an established tradition. Her school had been hosting the event for years, allowing students to celebrate graduation in an Islamic environment. 

“(The event) has always been the senior class's way of giving back to the students in the lower grades, and showing appreciation to those many of us have been going to school with for numerous years. The bash is planned primarily by the senior girls, and it gives us the opportunity to bring students to an event where we can have a good time in a fun, yet safe environment at school,” Aziz explained. 

“As we grew up seeing the previous senior classes host this event as well, our class had our own unique ideas and aspects that would represent ourselves especially, and so this was a way of doing so,” added Noor Saleh*. “Also, the funds we raise from this event are donated to a charitable cause on behalf of the graduating class.”

“Everyone looks forward to seeing what the seniors have planned and what will make them different from previous senior classes,” says Aziz. “Each year the theme for the event is creative and fun.” This year’s theme: Willy Wonka, from the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. 

Sobering statistics show that parents’ concerns about the nature of the prom, and the need for an alternative, are not unwarranted: 

  • Roughly one-third of alcohol-related teen traffic fatalities occur between April and June — the peak of prom and graduation season.
  • According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens — about 25% of teen crashes involve an underage drinking driver. Every year, 1,415 people under age 21 die from alcohol-related crashes.
  •  25 percent of American women have experienced sexual assault, including rape. Approximately one-half of those cases involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, victim, or both. 

For Amber Rehman and Shadi Sakr from Calgary, Canada, the alternative prom their children participated in, called the “Emaan Awards”, definitely offers a better way to celebrate.
“The beauty of having a graduation party like the Emaan Awards, is that you get to see the success of all the people in your community and it helps everyone feel included in the success stories which aren't often shared in the media about Muslim youth,” said Rehman. 
It also helps re-focus the purpose of the event. 
“I asked my kids about whether or not they benefit from the alternative prom ideas. This is what they had to say: ‘The alternative proms only matter if they focus on academic achievements because they help us celebrate what we did. This helps us come together for a purpose other than just a dance and party,’” she added. 
“My daughter also felt that if prom night is more focused on the achievements of individuals, people aren’t as concerned about who they will go to the dance with, so it doesn't put awkward attention on kids.”

 *Names have been changed at the request of the interviewees 

Comments

With all due respect, the article seems to be directed towards foreigners unfamiliar with U.S. customs, written by an author equally unfamiliar with proms as well. Incendiary commentary throughout make it appear as some hedonistic pagan practice rife with immorality of all kinds. This plays into foreign immigrants from ultra-conservative countries who only know America through the filter of people equally bereft of knowledge about America, or seeking to have their predetermined opinions confirmed. This isolation from facts and reality is a serious problem in all communities around the world, and contributes to isolation, prejudice and alienation.

First and foremost, the data cited on alcohol, etc., pertains to unsupervised Pre- and Post- prom events, not the Prom itself. Having attended many proms a chaperone - which are required at all proms (why was this not brought out in the article?), I can tell you from first hand experience (unlike the misinformed author) that no prom permits alcohol or any kind of illegal substance or harmful substance (such as smoking.) Safety is of paramount importance and is enforced both by the chaperones and, depending on the size and other factors, security personnel as well.

A prom is the final formal event of a student's high school life. It both teaches and demonstrates to young adults some of the life social skills they will need later in society: manners in social settings, other socialization skills, respect for their partners, appreciation for their partners and friend's efforts, and many other things. And it is supposed to be FUN! goodness, after 4 years of hard study, students off to college, many not to see the people that they grew together with into young adulthood, it's a wonderful time - and the last time they can do this. It is supposed to be FUN.

Parents also control the pre-and post- prom events. I was at all my children's pre-prom events which were always held at some parent's house, under the watchful eye of almost all the other parents, where we got to meet our children's friends, take pictures, and encourage them. Importantly, it provides a semi-public forum in which parents pronounce what is and what is to permitted that evening - pre-empting any last-minutes end-run arounds that the group might have such as the "oh, I thought I told you there's a party at Jeff's house later..." In our case - and the entire group of other parents, we did not permit "Post-prom" events" except t return to one of the parent's homes for light refreshments and then straight home.

It is very unfortunate that the author writes this as if from another planet, isolated from everyone, encouraging young people to continue in isolation. Why does the author not comment on the role of parents and chaperones in this process? Why does the author not comment on the groups of parents who work with each other insure a fun and safe prom? It’s as if the parent and child show up after 4 years of high school, not knowing anyone, not having friends, not being part of the community, not having participated in it all those years, and being clueless about the norms, expectations and responsibilities of everyone.

From this multiple first hand experience I can state that the inflammatory article on the horrors of proms was written from the perspective of someone without any experience, based on mis-applied statistics, so as to pander to the ignorance of foreign people who are unfamiliar with American customs. This article is a disservice.

Location

Seattle

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